The Business of Brand

TowerStone Leadership Centre

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A good definition of a brand is that it is a badge of origin, a promise of performance that differentiates it, used in pursuit of defined business objectives.

The last part of that definition can be described as the business of brand. It ensures that there is a clear, unambiguous understanding that brand is central to every aspect of the business. 

As David Aaker puts it in Aaker on Branding: ‘When a brand vision clicks, it reflects and supports the business strategy, differentiates from competitors, resonates with customers, energises and inspires employees and partners, and precipitates a gush of ideas for marketing programs.’ 

Another angle on this insight is made by Marty Neumeier in Zag: ‘Developing effective brand messaging is a complex task, but it’s crucial to articulate your brand’s value proposition to everyone—from employees to vendors to customers. Strong, clear messaging emanates from a strong, clear purpose. A carefully considered messaging system allows you to dramatise the uniqueness of your brand and spread the word effectively.’

These insights have two leadership imperatives: your brand strategy must be updated as regularly as your business strategy and must help to measurably drive your business objectives; and leadership owns the brand strategy as much as it owns the business strategy.

This means that a brand strategy must be developed by the executive of the business. The brand strategy process can be owned, and should be owned by marketing, but living the brand must be owned by all the leaders in the business and the MD / CEO is responsible for holding them accountable to doing so.

Thomas Gad puts it well in the preface to his book 4-D Branding: ‘Today, brands are not the preserve of marketing department. Brands are too important to be left to the marketing department - or any other 'department,' come to that. Organisational ghettoes do not create vibrant world-changing brands.’

And in the foreword to the same book Richard Branson emphasises that ‘Increasingly, brands are driven by values.’

This serves another nice, succinct definition of a brand: that it is a badge of trust.

If marketing and sales are cognisant that, in creating and satisfying demand, they are making a promise that can be purposefully met by operations, by people that human capital ensures are right and empowered and engaged to deliver on that promise with purpose, then finance is going to be happy. And the managing director will have a point of focus for his team. 

This approach is endorsed by Dennis Hahn of the Liquid Agency, in a whitepaper titled The New Brand Culture Model: ‘The old brand, which advocated the creation of an external brand image to influence consumers, is a thing of the past. We think it’s time to do things differently. In the new model a company’s true values replace the external brand image. In other words, looking good is no longer enough. To compete in today’s fast paced landscape, brands must be better from the inside out. They must embrace a cultural shift. We call this new model Brand Culture—and we think it has the potential to transform companies into truly amazing brands.’

And social media puts ‘today’s fast paced landscape’ on steroids from a consumerist angle. Millions spent on a mass-media campaign can be wasted by one tweet that finds traction.

But really this is not so new an insight. Driving from Oliver Tambo airport into Jozi I drove past a body lotion advertisement on a billboard making the claim that it was the favourite brand in South Africa. I was reminded that the brand that it replaced was sunk by operations deciding to replace the fragrance used with something cheaper in an effort to pursue margin, without informing marketing. This did not sit well with consumers and they switched allegiance. An example of a leadership team not living the brand together.

Trust, so precious, so fragile, begins with making an authentic promise, then purposefully keeping it, again and again, first earning respect, then building trust.

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